Slimmer Meadows eager to regain '19 form

February 25th, 2021

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- This offseason, set out to rediscover the form that made him an American League All-Star in 2019 -- not just at the plate, in the field or on the stat sheet, but physically.

It seems he’s off to a good start, because Meadows reported to Spring Training looking a lot like he did two years ago.

Meadows has earned frequent praise from Rays manager Kevin Cash, who said the 25-year-old came to camp in “awesome” condition. Meadows said he dropped about 10-15 pounds during his offseason workout program and now weighs around 220. His goal entering this year was to feel lighter on his feet, believing better performance will follow when he feels more athletic and more like himself.

“I just feel good,” Meadows said. “Coming in lighter, coming in in good shape and everything like that, I feel like that puts you in the best spot possible when it comes to not only hitting but everything -- and especially the endurance and the durability throughout the year and staying healthy.”

Meadows barely had a chance to get going last season. He struggled through a bout with COVID-19, a strained left oblique and a frustrating lack of rhythm as a result of all that lost time. He couldn’t get in a routine, and he didn’t crush the ball the way he did in his first full season with Tampa Bay.

Meadows tested positive for COVID-19 during Summer Camp, which derailed his preparation and left him scrambling to find his timing when he returned. A year after he hit .291 with a .922 OPS and 33 homers in 138 games, Meadows slashed just .205/.296/.371 in 36 games last season. Then came the oblique strain. He returned in the AL Division Series and once again faced an uphill battle to rediscover his timing at the plate, going just 7-for-51 with 18 strikeouts in the postseason.

Meadows said he’s healthy now despite one lingering after-effect of COVID-19: He lost his senses of taste and smell when he had the virus, and certain things still don’t smell the same.

“It’s weird,” he said. “My wife tells me that I’m crazy, but it’s definitely [true]; things smell different. It’s not fun.”

Meadows won’t use his illness or injury as an excuse for the way he hit last season. But after the World Series, he took a few weeks off before getting back to work to prove himself again.

Meadows cut sugar and fried foods from his diet, relying on the Whole Body Fuel meal prep/delivery service in Tampa for healthy alternatives. He trained weekly with Rays Major League strength and conditioning assistant Joe Greany, focusing on short-burst work and drills to improve his quickness. He spent the rest of the offseason working out with Charlie Morton and Tony Watson, among others, at the Athletic Edge Sports Performance Training Center in Lakewood Ranch.

“I got after it pretty hard this offseason,” Meadows said. “Just to kind of go back to that form, back to that feeling that I'm light on my feet and I'm quick. Go out there and show them that I can be quick on my routes, be quick on the bases, and it feels good to kind of get back to that form.”

Without any additions to their lineup this year, the Rays are counting on a return to form by Meadows, better health from Ji-Man Choi and Yandy Díaz and a full season of Randy Arozarena. Cash said he’s encouraged by what he’s seen so far from Meadows. Even in batting practice, Cash has noticed the left-handed hitter’s ability to reach certain pitches with greater ease than he showed in October.

“The key, especially for me, is feeling athletic in the box,” Meadows said. “I think that I've gone back to that. I feel athletic. I feel light on my feet. I feel like I'm able to get to balls quicker and better when it comes to inside pitches.”

Meadows was pleased the other day during batting practice on the back fields of Charlotte Sports Park, for instance, because -- as strange as this might sound -- he was fouling off balls toward first base. Unlike when he felt slow and heavy at times last year, Meadows has been able to quickly turn on inside pitches during the past few days. That, Meadows said, shows that he’s ready to go.

“Austin had a really messed-up year with being sick, being banged up -- could never get right and get timed up,” Cash said. “He has worked really hard this offseason to get his body back where he wants.

“He’s a special player. Guys can hit. He can hit. He’s proven that.”